DONALD

Living as the only white man on a hundred thousand acre section on a Rhodesian cattle ranch has its drawbacks.

Most people one talks to about the Wilds seem to think the chief disadvantages are lions, snakes, malaria and natives – shows what strange ideas people get from reading books and going to picture houses.

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Lions and snakes are a cattleman’s friends really – they help account for a lot of losses it would grieve him to admit to the manager were due to not preserving grazing from fires, or to feeding off grass near permanent water at the wrong time. It looks for more interesting too in one’s returns putting down ten deaths to snake-bite rather than Quarter Evil.

Loneliness is the disease that counts in the Bush. Malaria doesn’t worry a man any more than headaches seem to do a woman, whilst as for natives – my experiences is that whatever savagery takes place is done by the man who catches brother black doing what he shouldn’t.

Most trials and troubles in this world can be conquered by the exercise of a little willpower or a dose of Epsom Salts but loneliness has one beat every time – there is no cure for loneliness and no preventative – the only thing to do when it grips you is to break out of its clutches and run.

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I’d passed a month without seeing a white man when the disease came along – I wasn’t new to its effects but the trouble was where to go if I wanted to escape. On one side of my section there was a country in which one might travel for years and not see a white, on another I knew there wasn’t anybody bar natives for forty miles, behind was Main Camp and if I called there just because I was lonely the probabilities were that I would get the sack and the Manager have heart failure. There remained one side – the East and I’d heard from my natives that there was a white man living about twenty miles from my house.

I rode over one day and found a strange crowd – answering to the good old name of Smith – father, mother, two sons and a daughter, all from Seven Dials. Father was nominally manager of a large Company owned Lodge but it seemed that Ma was the real boss – “she ‘adn’t ‘arf choked the Managing Director off last toime ‘e was raound abart the plice she ‘adn’t.”

The daughter looked healthy – some poor devil will lead a hell of a life one day I thought – anyway she’s yet young and nice to play with.

I rather liked the two boys – good strapping English lads. The whole family were friendly and more than hospitable while their Cockney wit and humour kept me laughing like a schoolboy.

They wanted me to stay overnight but though I’d have liked to there were too many valuable bulls at my camp to risk slipping away without a sound excuse. Finding I was determined to move on the girl asked me whether I’d like a pup to take back with me.

The one thing I was badly wanting was a dog and I’d noticed a dozen animals of assorted breeds about the house. There were big lion dogs, little smooth hair and wired haired terriers with a couple of pointers to put in the medium element.

I’d love one” I answered, “but how can I get it over to my place?”

“Put it in your shirt,” she said “it’s only a tiny morsel of a thing, father a pedigree wire haired and mother purebred smooth terrier. They are both beautiful dogs and the pups ought to be grand.”

Accepting with thanks I accompanied Miss Smith round to the Stables to select the gift. I didn’t hesitate over which I wanted – there were four puppies, three typical fox terriers and one, a real wire-haired.

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“You’re mine” I exclaimed picking him up whilst a dainty black and white mother dog whined anxiously at me.

“That’s the pick of the bunch,” said Miss Smith “He is just like what his father was.”

My horse objected rather strenuously to our passenger at first but gradually settled down so my homeward journey was uneventful. Puppy snuggling contentedly against my body.

Few things in this world are so near perfection as the friendship that can exist between a lonely man and his dog. From the first night, Donald, as I named him slept on my bed, shared my meals and within a couple of weeks, began accompanying me on short walks around my camp. Most of my work was range riding and naturally, a pup couldn’t run very far or keep up with a horse.

At first, the poor little beggar used to howl most dismally at having to remain behind. Then one day returning home after a long ride I found Donald gone.

I was afraid something had snapped him up – a little pup is an attractive morsel to a leopard or hyena and there were plenty about still it wasn’t likely anything would come near the house in broad daylight and Don wasn’t in the habit of wondering. An eagle might easily have taken him but my cook swore that none had been about.

What I worried about most was snakebite – a young animal is always inquisitive particularly a baby fox terrier, and if it was to see a snake basking in the sun there was a certain chance that a pup would go sniffing at the thing and find instant death.

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We hunted around but found nothing so saddling up I went off the way I’d ridden that morning. Five miles from camp I heard a dismal howling and there was Donald too weary to move but gamely facing the direction I had gone.

After that Donald came with me – usually on my saddle with a spell of exercise when there was no need for riding beyond a walk, the runs got longer and longer as his powers developed. It was surprising how soon the wee doggie could do his five to twenty miles, though when hurried or on a long round, it was a nuisance to suddenly hear wild wailing behind and find Donald sitting in the veld announcing to the Heaven’s how tired he was.

are you coming?

Once he had had enough he would not budge a yard. The horse must come to him and his rider dismount to lift him on to the saddle.

The rains came. I had to ride over a swollen river to see a sick cow. Don followed as far as the stream and I shouted to him to go home then drove my mount into the current. Jove it was strong and deep. To my dismay Donald the wee rascal never hesitated – as we entered the river so did the dog. Naturally, he went whirling downstream and slipping from the saddle I followed. If anyone asked for trouble I certainly did and got it in full measure. Fortunately we had only entered the edge of the current but even so, there didn’t seem a hope especially with boots on – however, the little cherub up aloft remembered I came from seafaring folk and swung me into an eddy. I grabbed Donald and we scrambled ashore half-drowned.

In training animals, experience has taught me that the shaper the intelligence you are dealing with the harder is the trainer’s task. The pupil will persist in trying to anticipate what he is being taught with invariably false conclusions. To teach a mixture of two terrier breeds the work of a setter is above all things an ordeal of time and patience.

My food in those days was principally game and bread. Bird shooting always fascinated me so when time allowed Donald and I had many an hour tramping through the veld looking for Redwing or along the river after pheasants, wild duck and guinea fowl.

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During our walks, we usually put up small antelopes and hares besides birds, and to Donald, everything that moved was to be chased. That sort of thing, however, did not keep our larder supplied so Donald had to learn that no matter what ran, his duty was to remain next to his master until the gun went off.

It was a superhuman job teaching the pup and I learnt that there was a lot of truth in the old saying that chastisement often hurt the administrator more than the recipient. I hated smacking the wee rogue but it had to be done though for weeks Donald couldn’t understand why.

He soon learnt that every time he returned from a glorious chase after buck or bird he got whacked but he could not understand the reason. After the first couple of punishments, the little devil on his return would sit just beyond my reach looking at me and wagging his tail – when I moved towards him he shifted carefully a little further away. Lord! I used to get mad as for a quarter of an hour I coaxed and wheedled him to come and be beaten.

Cautiously manoeuvring towards the pack saying “Doggie! Doggie! Come on Donald – Good Donald – come boy!” was only productive of more tail movements and as I got almost within reaching distance, another change of ground.

But he learnt in time – I’ve had pointers and red setters but never a better dog on birds than Don. Few wounded buck got away from him either and it was wonderful watching him tackle a heavy duiker or reedbuck whose wounds scarcely impaired and rather strengthened it’s fighting powers.

Of course, the big game no small dog dared attempt to fasten on to, but a hurt animal couldn’t run far with a wildly excited terrier yapping frantically all around it. In almost every case the buck would stop and desperately try to gore or kick the confounded little pest – which gave me time to get up and put in a bullet.

Four years past. I had a pointer given me also pedigree smooth-haired terrier, a lady named Betty, who almost supplanted Donald is my idol. Donald married Betty and the two presented me with many children amongst whom was Mick a perfect son of his father.

Hector, the pointer, was the odd man out as regards the family and his life was an unhappy one. He came of good stock and instinctively obeyed the traditions of his race. Donald and Betty scorned him, bit him and continually tormented Hector in the home, but when I took the three for a run into the veld, the terriers let Hector hunt around at his will.

Suddenly the Pointer would begin quartering the ground – halt and stiffen to the orthodox “point”. Betty and Donald who had stood watching his work would dash directly into the bush or clump of grass which Hector guarded – away would scamper a hare, or with a whirr up would fly a covey of Redwing – and Hector sitting down would howl with heartbroken sorrow.

741I HUNTING FOX TERRIERS

One day I was out with Donald and rode into a mob of sable antelope – dismounting I stalked them and fired. One big cow, staggered but went off galloping strongly with Donald yapping furiously after.

Running back to my horse I swung into the saddle and dashed in the direction the cow was going. In some thick bush, I heard Donald’s battle cries and jumping off the horse ran into the thick thorn.

Everybody gets careless sometime or other and, though an old hunter I never worried about the danger of going after a wounded sable antelope into a broken bit of ravine thickly defended by ugly looking for thorn trees – my recklessness was paid for – breaking through some scrub I came right on the wounded cow at bay – I stopped simultaneously with her charge and blazed at her – shakey and panting with the run and sudden change of position one shot missed, the second grazed her neck.

Another second would have been my last – a tiny ball of white flung itself at the sable –  with a lightning twist of the long deadly horns the cow  transfixed and hurled the little annoyance in the air – but the instance’s pause was her death – two heavy bullets bit into her chest and with a convulsive spring she went crashing headlong to the ground.

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I bent over Donald, wiping the blood froth from his lips – he wagged his stump of a tail once – God I lay down and wept like a babe.

B.M.Leffler
Written on Valley Farm circa the 1930s
Based on an experience as a 17-year-old
P.O.Brooklyn
Pretoria

A Book is Born

From loose handwritten pages written in my Grandfather’s hand almost 100 years ago

cropped-img_9673.jpgDelville Wood

transcribed into a Blog by me his Granddaughter    Trish Armstrong née Leffler

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and then the pages bound in leather the colour of African soil

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by
William Harley & Son
28 Dew St, Thebarton SA 5031
Phone: (08) 8443 7515

A legacy from Bernard Meredith Leffler protected by his sons Patrick and Michael Leffler – a tale well told for future generations.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 50 Growing Tobacco in Rhodesia

End of 49th Entry: … others would come but it was foolishness worrying about them and those that had struck him always left some memory to chuckle over even if only at his own damned innocence or foolishness.

Now with a busy interesting life, a large civilised home filled with cheerful prosperous people Mick found himself brimful of joy o’ life. He and a younger brother of Godfrey’s shared a comfortable well-furnished room – Tom Godfrey his roommate had served throughout the Boer War, was frontier born and reared, had read largely and was a companion such as Mick had always longed to have.

The two went hunting together, exchanged life histories, discussed men and matters, played the gramophone and split the farm supervision between them. There were friendly neighbours close at hand – tennis, shooting parties and the owner and his wife was father and mother to Mick.

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The tobacco work fascinated him. First, the seedbeds were most carefully prepared the ground being ploughed, cross ploughed and worked up by hand to the finest possible tilth. Then waggon load after waggon load of timber, heavy tree trunks, brushwood and branches being packed into a mess four feet high – this was set fire to and when burned out the ground was roasted to at least four inches killing all seed of weeds or grass or any insects and their eggs.

The ash having been raked off the beds were bordered out with bricks each bed four feet two inches wide and twenty yards long. The tobacco seed mixed with wood ash was then carefully sown and cheesecloth laid over a wire eighteen inches from the ground running the length of the bed – the cheesecloth was then securely fastened down onto the brick side and end walls thus making the beds insect proof.

Twenty square yards of seedbed were allowed per acre of estimated planting and Mick had 800 square yards of beds to look after. For weeks the seed and seedlings were watered two or three times a day until the plants were strong vigorous ones ready for transplanting.

Meanwhile, the lands had been well ploughed and harrowed work continuing until the first rains when all hands were set on planting out the seedlings three feet between plants in the row with the rows some distance apart.

Shortly before the rains, the land had been marked out a straw being stuck where a plant would come a later – a tablespoonful of artificial fertiliser had also been scratched in at each straw so that when the first planting rain came there was no delay. The plants set out in well worked up land caught immediately – no sooner had the roots taken than they found their food available and began a steady growth at once.

Later the lower leaves were primed to keep the stem clean and allow a free passage of wind and air the great foes of moulds and some plant diseases – then, at last, the fields of broad tobacco leaves began to turn from dark rich green to the colour of Australian gold – flower heads appeared and were nipped out so as to preserve the strength of the plant in the leaves – the plants striving to obey their natural function, the production of seed send shoots out from each junction of stem and leaf each shoot a potential seed head – these were instantly ripped out and though still sending out suckers the plant began to ripen.

Africa's bread-basket: Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, was once seen as a powerhouse on the continent. Pictures show a tobacco farm in the country in around 1900

Now came the harvest. The bottom leaves were stripped from each plant and carted to the flue-curing barns, here they were strung in batches of three on sticks each stick taking roughly thirty-four bunches strung alternately on the right and left sides. As the sticks were completed they were handed into the barn and strung on tiers seven tiers going to a barn.

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When full the barn closed, made as airtight as possible and a fire’s started in two outside furnaces the heat of which ran down great fourteen-inch iron pipes which ran into and around the barn escaping into a chimney between the furnaces.

For twelve hours the temperature was held at 90°F. The as the leaves began to yellow the temperature was slowly advanced until at 110°F the leaves reached a perfect lemon colour. Ventilation both in the roof and on the ground level was then begun and the temperature and ventilation kept slowly an steadily increasing driving off the moisture content of the leaf as rapidly as the clammy heat brought it to the leaf’s surface.

At 120°F, the leaves began to show signs of drying and both temperatures and ventilation were increased more rapidly until 140°F was reached and the leaf on the bottom tiers was as dry as tinder. At this stage, the temperature was held steady until the top tiers were almost dry and then came full steam ahead and at 5°F per hour the mercury rose until 190°F was reached – all ventilators were then closed and the temperature held until the butts and stems of the leaves were as brittle as dry sticks.

The fires were now drawn – doors, ventilators and windows opened and the barn cooled – then everything was closed wet steam was run in until the leaves were supple, the sticks being taken down and unstrung the leaves were then packed in great bulks until time allowed their being sorted out into the odd fifty-four grades demanded by the buyers.

A barn took from seventy to ninety hours to cure and with three barns in different stages, one responsible man had to be on duty day and night.

A sudden drop or rise in temperature during the first fifty hours was quite capable of ruining a whole barn which might mean a loss of up to £70.  A log was therefore kept and the temperatures entered every half an hour.

The owner, his brother and Mick divided the shifts between them so that there was always one man in charge of fieldwork, one curing and one off duty.

The first frosts ended the curing season and began the maize harvest which was followed by shelling the maize grain from the cobs. This dome came the manuring and ploughing of lands, the planting season and once again the curing.

The Godfrey’s possessed a large circle of influential friends and shooting drives were constantly being held – these were never stale to Mick – apart from them, he and Tom Godfrey did a good deal of shooting securing a regular supply of oribi, duiker and steenbuck for the larder and now and again a tsessebe or reedbuck.

Tsessebe.

Tsessebe

The feathered game was plentiful the river banks and pools yielding many a partridge, pheasant, wild duck or goose – crocodiles infested the river and now and again gave a chance of a quick shot.

One monster Mick caught properly napping and with lightning, quickness let have two barrels – the distance was just right to allow the shot to spread nicely and apparently, one or more pellets entered the eye – the scaley brute, in any case, was badly hurt – it slid into the large pool and then swam madly up and down and round often leaping out of the water and lashing the surface into foam and waves.

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